Archive for May, 2006

When the going gets tough…

Sunday, May 28th, 2006

Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA) was caught red-handed accepting bribes. It doesn’t surprise me that members of congress are finding solidarity with one another, instead of denouncing him, or at least keeping their mouths shut. How many more fatcats have wads of bribe money stashed in their freezers?

More interesting is the White House’s reaction to Congress’s reaction. (more…)

Who cares?

Saturday, May 27th, 2006

House Republicans and Democrats are threatening to demand Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’s firing in response to an FBI raid on Congressman William J. Jefferson’s (D-LA) office, for which a valid search-and-seizure warrant was obtained. In response, Gonzales and other top Justice officials have threatened to quit if the President orders them to return material seized in the raid.

Rep. Jefferson is accused of accepting bribes totalling at least $100,000; $90,000 in cash, wrapped in aluminum foil, was found during the search. One of his aides has already pleaded guilty to bribe charges and been sentenced to eight years in prison.

Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, a Republican, is outraged, calling the search a violation of the Constitutional separation of powers. Hastert apparently feels the Legislative branch of the Federal government should be immune to the law.

In another time this might seem amusing, or worthy of dispassionate hair-splitting. In light of the Legislative branch’s lack of passion regarding violations of the peoples’ rights, or its failure to call for the firing of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld for countenancing human-rights violations all over the globe, it is outrageous. (more…)

Democrats vs Third-Party Candidates

Saturday, May 27th, 2006

Most of my liberal and progressive friends support the Democratic Party. In the 2004 presidential election the mantra was “Anyone But Bush.” But the “Anyone” always seems to be a Democrat, regardless of his voting record, or (in the case of Kerry) the un-democratic means the candidate used to keep competition off the ballot. The prevailing theory is, “A third-party candidate can’t win, so why waste a vote?” Okay, think about that theory in regards to yesterday’s Senate confirmation of Lt. Gen. Michael Hayden, the former head of NSA who approved warrantless spying on Americans, as head of the CIA. How can anyone claim Hayden is the person we want running the CIA? But look at how Senate Democrats voted: (more…)

Payback for the church

Tuesday, May 16th, 2006

A survey conducted by the Catholic Church in England shows that people who read the novel “The Da Vinci Code” are two times more likely to believe Jesus fathered a child, and four times more likely to believe the Catholic group Opus Dei is a murderous sect.

According to a Reuters article, church leaders are up in arms, demanding Sony Pictures place a disclaimer in the introduction to the movie version of the book. They want the film company to remind people they are watching a work of fiction. The irony is staggering. (more…)

Cuba, the other immigration problem

Tuesday, May 16th, 2006

Since 1995, the United States has followed a “wet-feet, dry-feet” policy regarding people fleeing Cuba by sea. The policy states that Cubans interdicted at sea are returned to Cuba or sent to a third country, but those who can make it to land (“dry feet”) may remain. After one year those lucky enough to reach the beach can enter the citizenship track.

In light of the paranoia and hysteria surrounding the millions of Mexicans crossing the border to work in the U.S., the Cuban immigration policy should be revisited. (more…)

What’s in an epithet?

Sunday, May 14th, 2006

A Google search for “hardline president” turns up more than 1.5 million hits, most of them to articles about Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Mr. Ahmadinejad is not just the elected leader of a large Middle Eastern country, he’s someone “advocating a rigidly uncompromising course of action” (Webster’s).

Adjectives give us information about the noun they precede. In this case, “hardline” offers a mental picture of knee-jerk conservatism and stubbornness. Our media wants us to form an opinion of President Ahmadinejad as an intractable, even dangerous, person. Mind you, media apologists go to great lengths to claim they only report the news, and that opinions are only given where they belong, on the editorial pages. Then why don’t they just call him “President Ahmadinejad,” and let the facts speak for themselves? (more…)

A tale of two borders

Sunday, May 14th, 2006

Tomorrow, President Bush will announce his program to interdict illegal aliens entering the United States from Mexico. He’s expected to order National Guard troops to the border, to augment the already-large Border Patrol forces. No doubt Bush will invoke “national security” as one of the reasons for these actions, because nothing motivates Americans like fear.

In light of this upcoming proclamation, here are some paragraphs culled from the 2005 State Department Country Reports on Terrorism. The texts are verbatim from the Report’s “Western Hemisphere Overview.” The part dealing with Mexico is reproduced below in its entirety; the part on Canada is excerpted.

Reading the report, I was struck by how much more effective in protecting our border the Mexican government is made to appear, compared with the Canadian government. One can’t help wondering how so many illegals — 1 to 2 million a year — get across the Mexican border, with so many Mexican agents monitoring activity along it. One also can’t help wondering if we might be better off positioning National Guard troops along the Canadian border, given the level of terrorist population in that country. Note that the part of the report describing Mexico — given here in its entirety — makes no mention of anti-American foreigners operating on Mexican soil. (more…)

Massing troops at the border

Saturday, May 13th, 2006

Bush has announced that he will beef up security at the Mexican-U.S. border, including possible use of National Guard troops. White-supremacist “Minutemen” must be glad. But this is just another political ploy by one of the most unpopular presidents in our history. (more…)

A culture in decline?

Friday, May 12th, 2006

Oswald Spengler (1880-1936) published a huge book, titled “The Decline of the West,” in 1918-1922. Spengler studied ancient and recent cultures to develop his thesis, which is that all cultures in all times pass through identical phases. Cultures begin as the creative expression of new ideas, and evolve into “civilizations,” during which creativity is replaced by reflection and relative material comfort. This later stage always leads to irreversible decline. Spengler saw cultures as organisms, growing to maturity, doddering into old age, and eventually dying. Spengler also concluded that the spirit of a culture could never be transferred to another culture.

Spengler’s philosophy differed from that of another German, Georg F.W. Hegel (1770-1831), who believed all cultures evolved toward a common end. For Hegel, that end was similar to the political and social systems of Germany in his time. But Hegelian political philosophy has been adopted by many other theorists since, including the neoconservatives. Neoconservatives believe all cultures will eventually adopt liberal democracy, as it is (in their opinion) the best political system. Of course, liberal democracy is supposedly what exists in the United States today. Thus are neoconservatives driven to impose liberal democracy on other countries, as in Iraq. Spengler would disagree with the neoconservatives on both points: Spengler didn’t see human development as a continuous river of progress, nor did he believe one culture could be transferred onto another.

Cable reruns of popular television series have given me an insight into Spengler’s theory. (more…)

The mother of Iraq

Thursday, May 11th, 2006

“We have underestimated the fact that [Iraq] is really an inchoate mass of tribes which can’t as yet be reduced to any system.” — Gertrude Bell (1868-1926)

Gertrude Bell was a British colonial administrator who spent her later years trying to set up a pro-British regime in Iraq. Bell was responsible for delineating Iraq’s borders, by combining three separate tribal provinces.

Reuters has an article about Bell and her grave, located in Baghdad, which is worth reading for the historical perspective. It makes clear that the American invasion of Iraq was a futile attempt to fix something that never worked in the first place.

“Herodotus”